Friday, July 1, 2016

Distiller: Doni Faber
Rating: 4/5 Stars

One Rainy Day in May                           Into the Forest                       Honeysuckle and Pain        
(The Familiar #1)                                      (The Familiar #2)                   (The Familiar #3)
May 12, 2015                                            October 27, 2015                    June 14, 2016
(839 pages)                                               (816 pages)                              (843 pages)

by Mark Z. Danielewski
Pantheon Books

Mark Z. Danielewski's first novel, House of Leaves, was so successful at being creepy that I didn't make it through the whole thing. But I was impressed with his style, so when I found three volumes of a new book, The Familiar, I was intrigued. Then I found out he is planning for it to be 27 volumes long! (with 9 volumes already written.)

Rather tongue-in-cheek, Mark has described the plot as being about a girl getting a cat and the cat getting hungry (and probably would describe the third as the cat getting angry.) Because after all, when one has written ~2400 pages, what else does one have to say about it? It is definitely a compelling relationship between a cat and a girl, who can't leave his presence without feeling like she's on fire. She and the cat are so in sync, that whatever the cat experiences, so does the girl. But there's a whole lot more going on.

Some computer developers have created something called, "The Orb," which can scry people and find aberrations. Xanther turns out to be the most interesting aberration of them all. But the people who are involved with this are leaving murders in their wake. There is also a Narrative Construct (distinct from the author), sometimes experiencing what its characters are experiencing and sometimes blocked. This NarCon can perhaps help explain why Xanther is an aberration?

What initially drew me to this book-- the intertwining of many lives from many different areas-- I found off-putting when trying to read. Rather than read it linearly, I followed the main thread through three volumes and then went back to pick up the remaining threads. (This was easy enough to do, since each character was color-coded, though I was initially thrown off by Xanther's parents each having their own color-coding.) When I tried to read it linearly, the shorter pieces were too difficult to follow. Piecing it together like I did, felt rather like the Rubix cube Xanther would idly play with during her sessions with a therapist. Even so, most of the other threads were not nearly as engaging or as accessible as Xanther and her cat.

Who would I recommend this book to? It definitely isn't for everyone. The length alone contributes to that. (Though it's a quicker read than you might expect. Some of the font and spacing is quite large.) But it is also very avant garde. So if you're not interested in playing with the novel and typology as a medium, this probably isn't for you. Danielewski said in an interview that House of Leaves was supposed to play with the boundaries of a movie, Only Revolutions with music, and The Familiar with a television series. I found The Familiar more accessible than Only Revolutions. (I can't compare with House of Leaves since I didn't make it through it.)

There is definitely some off-color content (sexual, language, chemical use, violence) that I imagine frequent readers of this blog would find off-putting. Fortunately, they were not (or at least not so far) main elements (though the violence seems likely to emerge.)


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